Plinio Corręa de Oliveira
Two Types of Meditation on Christmas
Diversity of Spiritual Schools
in the Church
Saint of the Day, Saturday, 12–29-1973
I will make two different meditations and then ask you which way of considering the Holy Christmas speaks more to you. Because want to test a little bit which way are turned the minds in the generation that succeeded the generation that succeeded mine.
I will make a first meditation which is highly authoritative, as it is taken directly from St. Ignatius Loyola. Meditating on Christmas, he makes the following considerations. I will it adapt a little to your mentality because it is dry and unadorned. I will adorn it a bit to be able to tell you something more.
He says that with the Christmas event Our Lord Jesus Christ sought to give men a lesson. He rightly says that the world – all men who live not for God but for themselves – that is, the whole group of selfish people who are the vast majority of men, usually in times of decadence, but especially as the time Our Lord was born and the one in which we live are led by their selfishness to tend to one of three goals: First, wealth ; second, pleasures; third, honors.
By pleasures he understands delights that the senses can give. Above all, sexual pleasures; then the pleasures of taste, sight, smell, hearing; in short, everything that a pleasant, luxurious, yummy life can give.
By riches he understands something different: the mere possession of money. It is the greed of those who seek money not because of the pleasures that it can bring (they are not moved by a thirst for money but for pleasures, and money is a means but not an end) but those who have a mania for money and want to be rich, very rich. They take no advantage of their fortune, sometimes living in very banal, obscure and often even miserable way for the sake of continually having the joy of possessing a large sum of money.
Then there’s the pleasure of honors. People who seek not so much money or a pleasant life but rather the consideration of others. They want to be the object of great homages, great attention, great reverence. They seek prestige.
Indeed, this classification is perfectly well made. Ultimately men’s selfishness has one of these three objects. You will notice around yourselves – perhaps even in yourselves if you make an examination of conscience— that if each of you were to let go, you would run after one of these three things.
You will say: But Dr. Plinio, this classification is kind of sketchy because a person can go after all three things at once: to like very much money, pleasures, and prestige.
True, but the human being is necessarily like this: a person likes one of those things a lot more than the others. So, after having experienced them all he ends up by settling on one and making it the purpose of his life.
As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, there is in man a certain unity whereby he has also a unity of objectives. And when man does not look to God as his ultimate end he seeks one of these three kinds of pleasures as his ultimate end.
Through His life, Our Lord Proved These Pleasures are Nothing
So Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to prove to men that these pleasures are worthless.
Obviously, this proof is valid only for Catholics. Its starting point is the belief that Our Lord Jesus Christ is God-Man and therefore every lesson He gives is infinitely wise and infinitely true. Obviously, an atheist cannot accept this evidence.
How could we make a Christmas meditation for an atheist? It is impossible because he negates the premises of Christmas. So this is for Catholics.
Moreover, this is not a meditation for any Catholic but for a Catholic with some fervor and some capacity, at least to some extent, of being impressed by the things of religion. Not one of those lukewarm Catholics that you find in large numbers out there, who couldn’t care less about religion no matter what you tell them.
The Spiritual Exercises require a Catholic with some chance to become impressed and sensitive to the things of religion; who has some desire of being consistent with his faith and thus draws from religious principles some consequences for his action; and considers it unbearable to be in contradiction with its own behavior.
So St. Ignatius proposes a Christmas meditation and shows how people are led to forget God on account of one of these three idolatrous goals: money, pleasure or honors.
The Nothingness of Riches
His first target is riches. He asks: What worth are the riches of this world? Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that in the Christmas crib. After all He is the Creator of heaven and earth, the Second Person of the Trinity; He is God and created heaven and earth, as God’s operations are jointly done by the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
The three Persons of the Trinity created the universe together. And hence they created all the wealth that is found on earth. In other words, everything on earth that is marvelous, beautiful, useful, capable of substantiating a man’s prosperity was created by God. So no one can have a wealth comparable to God’s.
Even more, God Who created all the riches that exist has an inexhaustible power to create as many riches as He wants -- and to do so effortlessly because He is omnipotent and exerts His omnipotence with the most perfect ease. So it suffices for us to look at all the stars in the sky and figure how much wealth each of them represents to understand how easily God creates everything. Thus, He could create an unfathomable number of times everything that has been created and much more, inexhaustibly and with the same ease with which He creates a grain of sand. So God is infinitely rich. He is rich in His essence much more than merely for that which He created.
Now this God so infinitely rich resolved to come to Earth as a poor man. He chose to be born to a carpenter father, a mother who performed household chores at home; He chose to be born in a manger, i.e. the poorest place you can imagine; having as heating only the breath of some animals and the little clothes Our Lady made for Him; having as shelter not a residence of men but one of animals, as He was born where animals would go eat. It was there that the Word of God was born!
In other words, He wanted thereby to show how much man must be indifferent to riches when it comes to comparing them to the service of God. And that therefore man should live above all not to be rich and highly honored but to love, praise and serve God on this earth and then worship Him in heaven for all eternity.
So all these men we see around us who run like mad after money; make its possession the only concern of their life; make conversations about money their most pleasant, attractive and interesting topic; place all their happiness on the idea that they have money and will never be poor but instead will get ever richer... these men are real fools. Because these goods they have, however valuable, are only a tiny fraction of what exists in the universe. And for God they are nothing but a bit of dust and mud.
Now let us admit that the world’s richest man is X. And that the sheer list of his assets takes a catalog the size of a phone book: real estate, cash, securities, credits, valuables etc. What would all that be compared to God Our Lord? Absolutely nothing.
Then, Mr. X and those who live exclusively or mainly for money and make its possession the only goal of their life behave as real fools by trampling underfoot the lesson Our Lord Jesus Christ gave in the crib. They do not understand what Our Lord hinted at in the manger: That man may wish to have riches, can maintain the riches he has and acquire wealth just as long as he does not make it the supreme goal of his life. As long as his ultimate goal is the glory of God and therefore, the glory of the Catholic Church and the victory of the Counter-Revolution over the Revolution. His financial concern has to be a collateral one, otherwise, if a Catholic, man behaves as a true madman by inverting the order of values, loving more what he should love less, and loving less what he should love more. This, as far as money is concerned.
The Nothingness of Pleasures
As for pleasures: If He had wanted, Our Lord Jesus Christ would have ordered for His crib all the most delightful silks in the universe; He could have sent angels to introduce the nicest perfumes in the place He was born; He could have sent for the most pleasant songs that exist on Earth. For if the angels sang for the shepherds to hear, how much more would they sing for the Child Jesus to hear! And no music on earth can remotely compare to angelic music.
The Child Jesus could have had super warm clothing; He could have been fed from the start with the best foods that exist in the world; in a word, He could have filled Himself with delights from the first moment of His earthly life.
What did he do? The opposite. He wanted to be born lying on straw, a material whose contact gives no pleasure at all to the body; He wanted to be in a manger, which usually does not smell good no matter how much Our Lady and St. Joseph cleaned it beforehand; He wanted to be shivering with cold, born at midnight in a place with winter, in a winter month, and therefore very cold; and He wanted to have as music only the lowing of the animals that were with Him. In other words, that was the opposite of all the pleasures imaginable. He wanted to show men that it is crazy to make of pleasures the main purpose of life.
The lesson He gives us is the opposite: as long as it is for the good of souls and for the glory of God we must immediately rid ourselves of all delights and seek only what is for the good of our Cause albeit with great sacrifice and resignation; that is what we should do.
The Nothingness of Honors, That Is, of Megalice
Third: Honors. Saying honors amounts to saying megalice. What are honors? It is for a person be the object of greater reverence than someone else. By being smarter, smoother, funnier, more diplomatic, more interesting, more likable. Or for anything else one can encounter along his way, have, or imagine to have. A person can have this more than others—sometimes he imagines he does but does not— but let us say that the person really has it more than others and then thinks he has the right to a special attention.
Sometimes human misery is such that man is vain even about things that do not lend themselves to it. The famous St. Paul the Hermit, who lived alone in the wilderness, after he became very old at a certain moment thought that he probably was the oldest man on Earth. The oldest man on earth is the one closest to the grave, isn’t it? He is the one in the most advance state of physical deterioration. And sometimes also mental deterioration, isn’t it? It was not something to wax conceited over. He had to fight that temptation, which was simply to say, “I am now the oldest man of the whole earth, the most ancient on earth!” If he said: I am “the more mature man on earth,” the one which reached, though ephemerally, the point of most perfect maturity, greater junction between that which age can give and youth can preserve...” – that would be wrong but would at least have some fragment of logic. But for a man to be puffed up for being the oldest on Earth is sheer nonsense! But even that can make a man vain.
Our Lord Jesus Christ chose to be born naked of everything that can make one vain. It is true that He was born to the Royal House of David; He was Prince of the House of David. But it is also a fact that he was born to a carpenter father, a mother who was - as I said – a housewife who did domestic services, at a time when the House of David had lost its political power, social prestige and money and thus when He was absolutely nothing in the earthly order of things.
He was born as a pariah, outside the city as no one there wanted to lodge His parents. They went from house to house asking for a place, there were no hotels but only guest houses, and they were not welcomed. So He chose to be born in a manger to show just how crazy are those with a fixed idea of appearing to be more than others. Instead of seeking to serve the Catholic Cause they try to be more, more and more and make vanity the goal of their lives.
Applying the Manger Lesson
So the way a Catholic should take advantage of these arguments is by applying them to others and to himself.
To others: When he sees someone not living according to God’s Law and for God’s glory but exclusively for their own advantage—such as friend of the family, a neighbor, a professional colleague who has political prestige for this that or the other; or who leads a delightful life or has a lot of money -- if he has a tendency to admire that man for that reason alone he should say: “No! This man’s behavior is reproached by Our Lord in the Gospel. Our Lord, the King of Eternal Wisdom has taught the opposite: that these things are secondary and that by putting all the effort of their lives into these things, these individuals act irrationally and because of it will be condemned on the last day.
On the contrary, blessed are those who renounce wealth, pleasures, honors or who have riches, pleasures and honors but are always willing to give them up at any time if the Catholic Cause so required. “These are the ones I will admire: those from the party of renunciation. And I will despise the others, not allowing myself to have admiration for a person who does not live the way he should.”
Then apply it to yourself as well: “What do I seek in my relations with others? Do I seek to be considered because of my wealth? Do I seek to be considered by the comfortable life that I lead? Do I seek to be well regarded for some title of superiority I have? Then I am worth nothing. Because what I should do is to not seek to be well-regarded by others but to strive that they love God. And to guide others to God’s love rather than attract their attention to me. I am stealing what is owed to God. I should worry only about the entire dedication my soul owes the Lord Our God, the Virgin Mary and the Holy Catholic Church.”
So, according to the school of St. Ignatius—which is the true school—we must have these considerations before our eyes day and night and eliminate from within our souls -- with the energy of one who tears out noxious weeds--those worldly considerations that lead us to worship money, pleasures and honors.
Of course this presupposes much prayer, for man does not fulfill the resolution to always think about this merely with willpower. This thought is often painful to man and he finds it difficult to have it always in view. And even when having it in view he finds it hard to give up these things. He needs prayer, graces, he needs to mortify himself to succeed in doing this. But if he acts in this way he will manage to do it and to please God.
So the program is to have this meditation before your eyes and orient your prayers, rosary, above all communions, Masses you attend, acts of piety and apostolate according to this idea: detachment from money, pleasures, and honors.
Here is a meditation made according to the school of St. Ignatius Loyola.
* * *
If it does not overload your heads I would now do a meditation of another type and then you can compare them. Let us make an experiment, something entirely different.
Imagine that each of you were like the Magi Kings and had the joy of entering the grotto and seeing Our Lady and St. Joseph, the Child Jesus, the shepherds and the oxen. Imagine you arrived and saw the Magi Kings approaching with their caravans, their processions, the Star, and offering the Child Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. Their animals stand outside laden with treasures etc. as the black King Balthazar and the two other kings, from the East and the West, worship the Infant Jesus.
Keeping that background in mind, the question would be: Which of the following scenarios would give you greater joy of soul, and which would make you feel closer to the Child Jesus?
In the Child Jesus we can consider, among other things, His infinite grandeur; on the other hand, His infinite accessibility; and we can also consider His infinite love. These are three aspects, among many others, that we could consider in the Child Jesus.
The Grandeur of the Infant Jesus and of Our Lady
To consider infinite greatness we could imagine a huge, high grotto almost like a cathedral, obviously not with a defined architecture but one in which the placement of its stones would make us vaguely sense the arches of a cathedral in the future Middle Ages. We should imagine that the cradle of the Child Jesus was placed right at the majestic intersection of these various natural naves and that a heavenly, golden light hovered over the Child Jesus at that moment.
He has the majesty of a true king albeit lying in His crib as a Child; He the King of all majesty and glory, Creator of heaven and earth, infinite, incarnate God made Man, having from the very first moment of His being more majesty, more grandeur and more manifestation of strength and power than all men who ever existed. This is true. He, in the first instant of His being and thus already in the womb of Our Lady was far more intelligent than St. Thomas Aquinas, incomparably more powerful than Charlemagne, Napoleon, Alexander; He knew all things incomparably more than any modern scientist. And on the ever changing face of the Child Jesus, from time to time would shine through that majesty made of wisdom, holiness, science, power.
Imagine you find all that mysteriously expressed on that Child’s face. Imagine that He sometimes moves and in that movement a King appears; imagine that He sometimes opens His eyes and their glow has such depth that you saw in Him a great sage; imagine the whole atmosphere that surrounds Him bathes in holiness all those who approach Him; and Him being so pure that no one can approach without asking forgiveness for their sins but at the same time feel attracted to correct their sinful lives by the sanctity emanating from the site.
Imagine Our Lady placed at His feet, also like a real Queen—She was and is Queen—with a dignity and grandeur which dispensed with noble clothing or high quality fabrics to impose itself.
You know that St. Therese of the Child Jesus was so imposing that her father called her “my little Queen”. And in her canonization process the Carmel gardener said that once he saw a nun do something, she had her back to him, and it was Saint Therese. Then the "devil's advocate" asked, “How did you know that nun with her back to you was St. Therese?” He answered: “By her majesty, for no one had the majesty she had.”
Now can you imagine what Our Lady’s majesty was like?
So imagine Our Lady most majestic, transcendent, most pure, praying to the Child Jesus; around, invisible angels sing chants of glory and the entire atmosphere is saturated with such values that for all that poverty and misery one would still say it was a royal, courtly atmosphere.
We approach and feel the grandeur of the God-Child. And as counter-revolutionaries we worship all that is noble, beautiful, holy, intransigent and combative; adoring that Child Who at the same time draws near to Him all forms of grandeur that emanate from Him and are but reflections of Him; all forms of purity and holiness that emanate from Him and are but participation in His holiness; and as if fending off Him sin, error, disorder, chaos, Revolution, which keep away without daring to stand or lift up their eyes to that magnificent scene in which order, hierarchy, pomp and splendor dominate completely.
Now imagine another aspect which is legitimate to imagine because, as I will explain at the end of this meditation these three aspects and many others should come together in Our Lord’s manger.
Imagine the Baby Jesus immensely accessible. Imagine that this King so full of majesty at a certain point opens His eyes to us. And each of us should imagine himself seen by Him and perceiving that His most pure, intelligent and lucid gaze penetrates deep into our eyes, sees the deepest of our defects, but also the best of our qualities. And at that moment His gaze touches our soul like it did St. Peter’s 33 years later. And He gives us deep sorrow for our sins.
The Gospel recounts that Our Lord’s gaze to St. Peter was such that St. Peter went out and wept bitterly. And then he cried for the rest of his life. Imagine a gaze of His penetrating us and giving us horror for our defects. Also imagine His gaze penetrating us and showing His love of our qualities, not only as creatures He made but a love in spite our defects because we are made by Him and destined to a degree of holiness and perfection that He knows and loves as something that can exist in us.
And then when the sinner least expected, through some prayer of Our Lady, He smiles. And in spite of all His majesty, with that smile we feel the distance disappear, forgiveness invades our soul, something draws us to walk toward Him and He affectionately embraces us. And pronounced our name: “So and so, I loved you so much, I love you so much! I wish for you so many things and forgive you so much. Do not think about your sins any longer! From now on, think only about serving Me. And throughout your life, whenever you have any doubt, remember my goodness, kindness and good pleasure and have recourse to Me through My Mother; and I will heed you and be your support and strength and take you to Heaven to reign by my side for all eternity.”
This would be, therefore, the accessibility of the Child Jesus.
His Infinite Compassion
Imagine seeing the mercy of the Child Jesus. Not only seeing the Child Jesus looking out for our good and at what is good and bad in us but at our sorrow for the miserable condition of every man on earth, the suffering that each of us carry: for past, present and future sufferings that He knows. Also looking to the risk our soul runs of plunging into the eternal torment of hell. While on earth, every man is exposed to go to hell.
Imagine the Child Jesus looking at Purgatory and the torments that await us there if we are not entirely faithful.
Then He has a look of compassion, pity and deep participation in our pain; a desire to remove this pain to the degree that our sanctification allows; a desire to give us the strength to endure the pain to the extent that it is necessary to sanctify us.
So we see in Him something that consoles man so much and He did not have when it was His turn to suffer. At the hour of suffering – this is part of human nature and is legitimate -- any of us is consoled to have someone who has pity on us. Suffering is halved. Man is made in such a way that when he is cheerful and communicates his joy, it doubles; when he is sad and communicates sadness his grief is shared and thus halved.
So too, and a fortiori are we in relation to the Child Jesus. Imagine then that we find in Him that perfect compassion we would never find throughout our lives.
Thus, in all of our life’s sufferings, when the cup to be drunk was very bitter we would repeat through Our Lady this prayer of His: “My Father, if possible, move away this cup from Me; but let Thy will be done and not mine.” In other words, at all moments we would ask for pain to go away; but if it was His will that pain should come upon us; but during the pain we would have His compassionate gaze, as if saying, “My son, I suffer with you! Let us suffer together, for I suffered for you. And a moment will come when you will eternally partake My joy.” And the compassionate gaze of Jesus would not leave our existence even for a moment.
So let us draw from this meditation on the crib a threefold reflection and reminder: The Child Jesus’ infinite majesty, infinite accessibility and boundless compassion for us. And let us seek to keep the memory of these three points at least throughout the Christmas season, throughout the vicissitudes of our daily life.
An Objection: “These Three Aspects Could Not Fit In the Crib at the Same Time”
Someone may tell me, “But Dr. Plinio, the crib could not have these three aspects at the same time.”
That is not true. All perfections existed in Our Lord. In His human nature, all perfect states of soul coexisted at the same time in different ways and degrees according to the circumstances of life, but they were there. And He was full of majesty, fully accessible, fully exorable, fully compassionate for men from the moment He entered the earth. And it was only natural for Him, though still a Child, to show Himself in one way or another depending on the souls that approached. And it would be very beautiful for a church to have on three different altars, three mangers in which all figures and the whole ambiance represented one of these aspects to make it easier for souls to meditate on this point—as indeed on countless other points that could be considered.
So here would be another kind of meditation on Christmas: the first, a kind of meditation we would call more theoretical, more doctrinal; the second, a more sensitive reenactment that touches us more closely.
Diversity in the Spiritual Schools of the Church
Here is a meditation on holy Christmas...which leads to this conviction: Both types should be done because there are spiritual paths for everyone. And one should not stick to just one thing or the other. It is worthwhile for us to change, to do it, now one way, sometimes the other, so as to serve the needs of all souls.
If you asked me what strikes me the most you can see how I composed the second type. But I am much more impressed with the first. It is more akin to my own generation or perhaps better suited to my mentality. I am totally filled and satisfied with what is entirely rational and can see tied down by inexorable logic. I understand that others are not like that. And I understand it to such a point that I took up the job of composing a different meditation for the use of others and believe my time has been very well spent.
Now you can see transpire in this opinion, the following position: the Church has various spiritual schools. All these schools approved by her and in general started and followed by saints are splendid. Each person should follow what his soul asks. You can see that my soul is eminently Ignatian. The system of St. Ignatius delights me: simple, clear reasoning that concludes and drags you along and about which there is no misrepresentation or sophistry. It makes me enthused.
Let each of us be as God made him, for His glory. Here is a meditation on holy Christmas. May Our Lady help us so we can take advantage from any of them to understand her and Child Jesus more and more.
TFP: The Synthesis School
(Question: as your followers, don’t you think it reasonable for us to do our best to fit into your path?)
I don’t think so because, firstly, under certain aspects the TFP is a spiritual school. But it has a lot of all the spiritual schools that have existed so far in the Church and it is much more a synthesis than something new. Therefore, all approved, holy and legitimate forms of spirituality must be fully supported in the TFP.
Secondly, because - among other reasons I could give – there can also be differences from generation to generation. And even if you assumed that this school should be for everyone, I think a lot of preparation would be required for everyone to get there. The fact that some of us are citizens of the “civilization of the image” would have to subside and a long preparation would be needed to have the empire of pure reasoning arise until it completely took hold in us. And that assumes a preparation. This preparation is done through the other way [the more sensitive composition] that is, if everyone should finally arrive at my way.
(Question: Why is it easier for a person who makes the first type of meditation to do the second?)
I do not think that is quite right. Until a few years ago I was unable to make the second type of meditation simply because I had not seen the key to the subject, that is, a reflection that would open up the issue for me. Because I would look at presentations of the manger in one way and another and I would think to myself: “How do I know what the manger was really like? If I recompose it in way or another it will turn out to be something it was not. And instead of doing a meditation I am doing a fantasy. If they gave me a picture of the crib or a painting by someone who authentically painted the crib I would try to adapt to the reality that it was; but I do not understand that I should adapt for myself a fantasy that does not correspond to reality. Now since I see that many saints have done it, I accept and venerate it but I accept without understanding.”
Only at one point this simple, key idea occurred to me: it is that in fact the manger had everything. It conveyed all legitimate, holy and healthy impressions. So that whatever may have been its materiality all the perfections of the Child Jesus were mirrored in the manger.
Accordingly, by imagining the manger I am not really imagining its material environment but the spiritual impressions that this material environment carried in function of the Child Jesus; and so I am imagining something that was true. I am entirely free to imagine it as long as it is within the bounds of Revelation and Theology: I am considering something true. That is when I was able to make such a meditation.
The second meditation is also logical. There is no meditation without logic. But wonderment, fantasy and sensibility play a very large role in preparing the play of logic. Not in the first type of meditation which is much drier. That is the difference between the two. The conclusion is that the generation that followed my own is very keen to wonderment and preparations of this kind.
How I wish I had in the Group painters or drawers who knew for example to paint three mangers according to this conception! Showing all of Our Lord’s grandeur, or all His accessibility, affability and compassion. How beautiful it would be!
The hard part is painting that which is the center of the crib: a newborn Child who had all that without losing His features as a boy. And one Who had above all a gaze. How to paint a child’s gaze able to say all that? Before being a painter one would need to be a psychologist to imagine that gaze; and after having imagined it, how to paint it?
If anyone feels inclined to paint gazes, this would be the painter who starts this TFP School. For I have the impression that in painting the expression of a gaze the TFP School would be widely represented. This is not to discourage, but to invite.